Moss Valley Meats: Derbyshire pig farmer Stephen Thompson facing 'disaster' due to butcher shortage

A Derbyshire farmer is facing ‘impending disaster’ due to a lack of butchers leaving him with 200 surplus pigs

Monday, 28th February 2022, 10:46 am
Updated Monday, 28th February 2022, 11:02 am

Stephen Thompson says he is losing ‘well over’ £600 a week due to feeding healthy animals that should have gone for slaughter.

He usually has 200 sows and 2,000 pigs on the farm. But due to a shortage of butchers - and his refusal to ‘cull’ and burn pigs - he has 200 extra.

In total, they are eating a ton of food - costing more than £300 - a day, he says. And the situation threatens the pig side of the long-established family farm which trades as Moss Valley Fine Meats.

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Stephen Thompson, at Povey Farm on Lightwood Lane, Norton says he is losing ‘well over’ £600-a-week due to feeding healthy pigs that should have gone for slaughter.

The business produces pork, bacon, ham and sausages in our own butchery from pigs bred and reared on our farm in the Moss Valley in North East Derbyshire. The family has lived and farmed here for a hundred years.

A decision on its future will be made either by the bank, or ‘when I cannot deal with the sleepless nights anymore’, he added.

HOW MANY HEALTHY ANIMALS HAVE BEEN CULLED?

Nationally, there are estimated to be up to 200,000 pigs ‘backed up’ on farms, with more than 40,000 killed and burnt, Mr Thompson says.

Stephen Thompson and wife Karen at Povey farm in happier times after being shortlisted for UK Pig Farmer of the Year in 2020.

In September, the National Pig Association said about 80 per cent of butchers in abattoirs were from Europe, but many had left because of Brexit and Covid.

The Government introduced a temporary visa scheme, but Mr Thompson says it is too ‘prescriptive and complex’, and run by people who have no experience of seeking butchery skills abroad.

HOW MANY FOREIGN BUTCHERS HAVE COME ON A VISA?

The result is only 100 foreign butchers have come to the UK when the industry needed 5,000, he added.

He said: “The whole thing is an impending disaster for the British pig industry because it financially destroys businesses, mentally demoralises farmers and decimates trust in Government from the pig farming community.

“So far, Defra refuses to make this process more fit for purpose.”

Some retailers continued to import whole German carcasses for butchery in this country, exacerbating UK farmers’ problems, he added.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT ON THE ‘NATIONAL HERD’?

Six months ago the UK was 40 per cent self-sufficient in pork but there had been a 10 per cent contraction in the UK herd.

Pointing to the Ukraine war and the energy crisis, Mr Thompson added: “We ignore UK food security at our absolute peril.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are supporting the pig sector with 800 temporary visas for pork butchers, and two schemes to encourage pig processing in abattoirs and allow processors to put pig meat into storage to be sold at a later date.

“A review of fairness in pig industry supply chains is also underway. Ministers will continue to work closely with the industry on the ongoing challenges it is facing.”

Butchers began arriving on six-month visas in December which will continue throughout January and February, he added.

WHY HAS TAKE-UP BEEN SLOW?

He said: “While commercial interest for pork butchers hired through the temporary visa scheme has been high, recruitment has taken longer than initially expected for several reasons, primarily due to concern around the Omicron variant. The time of year and the skilled nature of the role have also contributed to this delay.”

The pig industry had also been hit by the loss of exports to the Chinese market for certain pig processors, global disruption to CO2 supplies and global labour shortages, he added.

Lee Rowley, Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire, has been contacted for comment.